For the past several years, the Southeastern Conference has been engaged in what can only be called an arms race as every school has undergone some sort of renovation of its athletic facilities. It’s a race that will only escalate to new levels with the infusion of money from the SEC Network, which some business experts say might reach or exceed $30 million per school.
During the past couple of weeks, I’ve talked to friends from all walks of life, from boosters to former coaches to media, to ask their opinions of facilities in the SEC from top to bottom at all 14 schools. While they might not agree on everything, it is unanimous that facilities have a tremendous affect on recruiting, especially in football.
The following is a consensus of the opinions of more than 20 people (including my own) regarding the facilities in the SEC.
1. Arkansas: Frank Broyles was an absolute genius. He got the three biggest corporate names in the state – WalMart, Tyson Foods, Reynolds Aluminum – to spend the big bucks to make the Razorbacks’ facilities among the best in the entire country. Donald W. Reynolds Stadium is undergoing renovation that will increase capacity to 80,000. Bud Walton Arena is the best basketball arena in the SEC and one of the best in the entire country. Baum Stadium ranks as one of the five best baseball stadiums in the country. The Tyson Track Center is the nation’s best indoor facility that has hosted the NCAA championships 10 times. The outdoor track has also hosted NCAA championships and ranks among the best facilities nationally. Tennis has a six-court indoor complex and 10 outdoor courts. When Walton Arena opened, Arkansas transformed Barnhill Arena into a volleyball/gymnastics center that rates with the best in the country. The indoor practice facilities for football and baseball are as good as you will find in the country. The swimming facility is adequate but doesn’t rate with the better facilities on campus.
2. Texas A&M: There is a joke in Texas that the only one with more money than either Texas or Texas A&M is God. Judging by the athletic facilities in College Station, you might have a hard time making an argument to the contrary. Kyle Field is midway through its $450 million renovation that will finish prior to the 2015 season, leaving the stadium with a capacity somewhere in the neighborhood of 108,000. The practice facilities are as good as it gets. Basketball’s Reed Arena is top half of the SEC. Blue Bell Park is an outstanding baseball stadium complete with premium seating. The indoor track stadium is one of the top five in the country. The dedicated soccer stadium/complex is the best in the SEC. Softball, swimming, golf, outdoor track and tennis all have outstanding venues and practice facilities. In 2013, Texas A&M boosters and alumni gave $740 million of which $271 was donated to the 12th Man Foundation, the money engine behind Aggie athletics.
3. Alabama: Football is the cash cow and the reason all the facilities at Alabama have been upgraded substantially or are in the process. Bryant-Denny Stadium has expanded to seat 102,000. There are three grass outdoor practice fields, an artificial turf outdoor field and the largest indoor football practice facility in the nation. Men’s basketball and gymnastics share Coleman Coliseum, which underwent a $22 million upgrade back in 2005. The eyesore of an otherwise outstanding athletic complex has been shut down and in its place Alabama will have a brand new baseball stadium for the 2015 season. Alabama’s NCAA championship level golf teams have a state of the art practice complex at the Old Colony Golf Course where they play their home matches. The softball stadium seats nearly 4,000. Track, swimming and soccer facilities are well above average. Women’s basketball and volleyball share Foster Auditorium which seats 3,800.
4. Tennessee: Since 2008, UT has upgraded Neyland Stadium, Thompson-Boling Arena, Lindsey Nelson Stadium and the tennis, golf, swimming and softball facilities. Neyland Stadium was downsized to provide more luxury seating. Thompson-Boling Arena (20,000 capacity) was also downsized, again with the addition of luxury boxes. Lindsey Nelson Stadium has been upgraded twice since 2006 and there are plans to add 16 luxury suites and a new press box. Softball got a new stadium in 2008 and swimming got a new aquatic center the same year. Tennis has six indoor courts and six outdoor courts. The track stadium is second only to Arkansas. Soccer got a new stadium in 2007. Football has outstanding indoor and outdoor practice facilities. The golf practice facility opened in 2010, designed by Greg Norman.Tennessee
5. LSU: LSU would rank top tier if not for the Maravich Center. Tiger Stadium was just expanded to 102,231. Even before expansion it was considered the most intimidating stadium in the country. It’s even more intimidating with the extra 8,000 seats. The indoor and outdoor (four full practice fields) rank with the best in the country. Alex Box Stadium (capacity 10,326) is the best baseball facility in the country. There is talk to expand it because the more than 10,000 seats just aren’t enough. Indoor and outdoor track facilities are outstanding. Then there is the Maravich Center. It’s not a dump, but it needs another renovation. Training facilities for all sports are outstanding. The softball stadium ranks with the best in the league. Golf facilities rank among the nation’s best and tennis is getting a long-awaited tennis facility that will open up in the spring. Swimming and soccer facilities are very average.
6. Auburn: Jordan-Hare Stadium ranks among the best places to watch a football game in the country and while more premium seats might be added, there are no plans for wholesale expansion. The basketball arena (capacity 9,121) opened up just four years ago and offers extraordinary sightlines as there isn’t a seat more than 43 feet away from the court. Plainsman Park is 62-years old but the stands, dugouts, outfield were renovated 15 years ago to make it look like a mini Camden Yards. The swimming facility has been home to eight NCAA men’s and five NCAA women’s championship teams. Tennis has an indoor facility with six courts and 12 outdoor courts. The soccer and softball complexes are above average. Volleyball has a nice compact arena at the Student Activities Center while gymnastics has a practice facility connected to the basketball arena. Track facilities are quite average. The golf course is outstanding and the practice facilities are very good.
7. Ole Miss: Ole Miss is in the midst of substantially upgrading all of its facilities. Renovation of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is in the works and a brand new basketball arena is set to open up in December of 2015, replacing the ancient Tad Pad. Capacity in the football stadium is expected to increase to 64,000 by the 2016 football season. The Manning Center features an outstanding indoor practice facility for football and both the stadium and outdoor practice facilities are linked by a tunnel. Both the golf course and golf practice facilities are outstanding. Renovations to the baseball stadium in 2009 made that facility one of the best in the country. The Gillom Sports Center houses the women’s sports programs and features an outstanding volleyball arena along with an excellent three-court indoor tennis facility. The soccer complex is above average.
8. South Carolina: South Carolina facilities have undergone substantial upgrades in the last 10 years. Rather than expand capacity beyond the current 80,000, South Carolina is planning more premium seating for Williams-Brice Stadium and will continue to upgrade the entire facility. The Colonial Center is an outstanding 18,000-seat facility that also attracts top concerts to Columbia, and Carolina Stadium is considered one of the two or three best baseball parks in the country. A new indoor football practice facility will be open in the summer of 2015. The softball stadium is first rate as are the golf facilities. There are plans for an indoor track facility and upgrades to the soccer complex. Volleyball, swimming and outdoor track facilities are adequate. The golf practice facilities and course are outstanding. Facilities are nice but scattered all over the place and not easily accessed by students.
9. Missouri: Missouri has a well-planned athletic park with all the sports venues located within an easy walk of each other and room to expand if necessary. Football stadium capacity has been improved to 77,000 and renovations will continue. Football practice facilities, both outside and indoor are outstanding. The basketball arena is one of the top five in the SEC. Missouri has outstanding indoor track and field facilities. Soccer shares the track stadium. Baseball, swimming, tennis and golf facilities are adequate but not outstanding. Training facilities for football, basketball and gymnastics are outstanding.
10. Florida: It is a mixed bag for Florida facilities. While Ben Hill Griffin Stadium ranks as one of the toughest places to play in all of college football, it gets low marks for amenities although that’s a problem that is currently being addressed. The Stephen C. O’Connell Center is getting a near-$50 million makeover. The Gators have a great home court advantage because the arena holds the noise in but the facility was already outdated 25 years ago and renovation won’t change that. Basketball does have an outstanding practice facility for the men’s and women’s teams. The baseball stadium/practice facilities are very good but not anything close to the best in the SEC. Gymnastics got an outstanding new practice facility, which is fitting for a team that has won consecutive NCAA titles and will go for a three-peat this year. Women’s lacrosse has outstanding facilities and is a program knocking on the door of national dominance. Softball brought home a national title and could use another 500-1,000 seats. The O-Dome pool lags behind the best in the SEC. Track and soccer share a stadium and it’s adequate. Volleyball has a fine practice facility and plays to big crowds in the O-Dome. If not for Vanderbilt, Florida’s football practice facilities might be the worst in the SEC with only two full fields and only a partial (about 70 yards) artificial surface field. An indoor practice facility is in the works. The tennis complex is very good but not great. With the O-Dome being renovated, indoor track will have no place to call home unless it’s included in the indoor football practice facility.
11. Kentucky: Kentucky is shrinking Commonwealth Stadium to 61,000 but making the stadium more fan friendly while adding more premium seating. Rupp Arena remains one of college basketball’s cathedrals but it needs serious upgrading. A planned $310 million upgrade was ditched back in the summer due so it’s back to the drawing board. A decision hasn’t been made whether to upgrade Rupp or build a new facility. The baseball stadium is the worst in the conference. The Nutter Field House doubles as the home for indoor track and field as well as the indoor football practice facility. The basketball practice facility is the best in the country, which should surprise no one. Women’s basketball, volleyball and gymnastics share the old Kentucky Coliseum, which was downsized to 8,000 capacity, gutted and turned into one of the best women’s facilities in the country. Softball has an outstanding facility while swimming, golf and tennis facilities are average at best.
12. Georgia: Sanford Stadium is one of the best places to see a game in all of college football and is likely to be expanded to more than 100,000. The outdoor practice facilities are very good and so are the strength and conditioning facilities for football. Georgia recently announced it will build an indoor practice facility. Practice facilities for gymnastics and basketball are state of the art. Stegman Coliseum is ancient but there isn’t a general outcry to build something new. The baseball stadium and practice facilities are undergoing a $12 million renovation. Georgia has the best tennis facilities in the country and the golf facilities aren’t far behind. Swimming facilities rank among the best in the SEC. There is no indoor track facility. Soccer, softball and outdoor track and field facilities are average, at best.
13. Mississippi State: With upgrades to Davis-Wade Stadium and upgrades to the practice facilities Mississippi State’s football complex is well above average. With the infusion of SEC Network money, there are plans to upgrade the rest of the facilities as well. Humphrey Coliseum has been upgraded several times and it provides a nice home court advantage. Basketball practice facilities are very good. The baseball stadium and Palmeiro Center practice facilities are exceptional. Tennis facilities are very good and there is an above average golf practice facility. The volleyball facility is very good and the outdoor track facilities/stadium are well above average. Softball facilities are okay but need an upgrade.
14. VANDERBILT: Vanderbilt made a commitment to upgrade its entire athletic plant but especially the football facilities approximately three years ago. The football upgrades have helped with recruiting but they still lag far behind the rest of the SEC. Vanderbilt Stadium seats only 40,000 and sells out when visiting fans bring a decent contingent. Memorial Gym seats 15,000 but it’s antiquated. The baseball stadium is well above average. The multi-purpose facility houses indoor track and doubles as an indoor football practice facility. Tennis facilities include five indoor courts and are well above average. Soccer and lacrosse share an above average facility.
When it comes to Florida’s facilities, what is the biggest priority?
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